Replay Value: 7.5
We’ve already taken a close look at EA’s hockey effort this year, and we came away suitably impressed. And now, we’ve had a few days to get accustomed to the very different NHL 2K10 and while they wish to cater to the social gaming crowd, it falls short in a direct comparison with the competition. Perhaps the biggest problem centers on the lack of control, a poor sense of speed and intensity, and a few drawbacks that should’ve been left behind years ago. The game isn’t bad; it just doesn’t excel in the areas NHL 10 excelled in, and it becomes more obvious as you dive into the intricacies of the gameplay. The good news is that everything looks great, the online multiplayer really works extremely well, and I will always prefer the use of face button over reliance on the analog sticks. The control still doesn’t gel as well as I would’ve liked but for the most part, it’s not difficult to pick up NHL 2K10 and start playing. Just don’t expect anything too spectacular.
The graphics shine when the camera sits at a certain distance from the rink: the ice is beautiful, the arenas are nicely detailed, the crowds are loud and jubilant, and while I’m not the biggest fan of the menu presentation, it’s still slick. The animations are fluid but have a negative effect on the gameplay – as you will see in just a few minutes – and the player detail is a little better than it was in NHL 10. There really isn’t much wrong with this presentation and it’s actually the best part of 2K’s production…which won’t come as good news to all the fans out there. I particularly liked the addition of a picture-in-picture deal when out on the ice; you’ll be able to see exactly when a player gets out of the penalty box, and that’s a definite benefit. You also have more control over the camera angles as you can select the degree of angle and/or tilt in a variety of different looks, so there isn’t much to complain about. At the very least, NHL 2K10 is the best-looking hockey game of the year, if only by a small margin.
The sound isn’t quite as overwhelmingly good as it was in NHL 10, though. The commentary isn’t as dynamic and diverse, the soundtrack is more generic and the music selection is often questionable, and only the on-ice effects really have a significantly positive impact. Maneuvering the puck around, smacking into other players, the clang of the puck on the goalpost, the grunts of fallen opponents; it all comes together during any given match. But really, some of the tracks just don’t fit the hockey style at all and while the announcers remained effective, we’re definitely spoiled by that fantastic commentary from the competition. The sound package felt a little contrived and not entirely complete, but again, it’s not necessarily a shortcoming that’s going to cripple the experience. No, there are certain aspects of the gameplay that will hinder your enjoyment of the action, and we’re gonna dive into that right now. In the end, the technicals of NHL 2K10 are solid; the graphics are excellent and the sound is…well, good.
The game will immediately want you to start a Quick Game but it’s probably a better idea to practice and go through the tutorials. Of course, you’ll have to realize that 2K’s new-look menu presentation is designed to take a backseat; it acts more like an action-based hub of commands. You hold down a button and then select your navigation wishes. As I mentioned early on, this is kinda cool, but I just couldn’t get my head wrapped around it. What exactly was wrong with the standard menus? They’re not really in the way. They don’t infringe on any action. But whatever; moving on: once you’ve entered the tutorials, you’ll quickly notice that the controls, while simple on the surface, will require you to remember more combinations of buttons than you might have anticipated. The downside of using face buttons to perform a bunch of different maneuvers is that you have to use almost the entire controller, and this can take a great deal of time to master. It just gets frustrating after a while.
You also don’t have the control options you had in NHL 10 but perhaps the aforementioned camera options cancel things out. There’s more of a momentum drag in this game, though, and you may or may not appreciate such a feature because it can be extraordinarily difficult to change direction. Then there’s the “magnetic puck” issue that rears its ugly head at various times and while the animations are nice, they’re often too over-the-top (players fall on their back far too often). Furthermore, there’s too much eccentricity going on: even checking a player to his knees doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll lose control of the puck, and scoring goals almost seems entirely arbitrary. Yeah, you can aim but the goalie is either superhuman or has one particular weakness that you can try to exploit. There just appears to be a lack of flow throughout; the challenge dips and wavers constantly due to these drawbacks, and let’s not forget about the sensation of speed…which always seems far, far too slow.
Buy there are plenty of good aspects to this production. You can quickly and easily perform different passes and while you’ll have to hold down L1 to perform individual moves, you can really gain the advantage if you’re successful. It still seems far too easy to relinquish the puck when on offense as merely being in the same vicinity as an opposing player may be dangerous. This is somewhat realistic but it doesn’t really allow the player to feel confident when holding the puck. Even so, dump-offs, wrist shots, deke moves; it’s all effective and you’ll want to utilize every last option when on the ice. You can also gain control of the goalie but it seems rather pointless as the computer is almost always superior to your abilities. The number of features rivals that of NHL 10 and even outstrips it in some of the online aspects; being able to play the Franchise mode cooperatively is awesome, and the Team Up and Party options also add a huge amount of flavor to the multiplayer facets of the game.
But in the end, there’s something missing. It’s an air of completeness, I guess. Too many times, it just feels as if you don’t have total control over what’s going on during a match, and the AI is questionable. Like the inherent challenge, it tends to jump all over the place; one minute, you’re impressed and the next you’re confused… “wait, why’d he do that?” The animations are nice but they tend to slow things down for some reason – so I can’t sweep my stick while still skating forward? How come? – and that doesn’t help much, as the speed of the game is already slower than desired. It’s better than average and I’d be more inclined to recommend it, but this year, NHL 10 definitely wins the ice rink battle.